Thursday, June 30, 2011

Recommended Reading

A Wine Industry Roadmap To Irrelevancy

TowardLCA damned interesting event occurred recently that has nearly slipped under the radar. "Damned interesting" may seem hyperbole to most of you but to those who gravitate toward the historical, political and regulatorial (that's not really a word), this event is pretty interesting.
Not long ago, the good people at the Center for Alcohol Policy (a National Beer Wholesaler of America creation) took it upon themselves to see to the re-printing and re-release of what might be the most influential book on alcohol ever written in United States: "Toward Liquor Control".
Written in 1933 and underwritten by John D. Rockefeller, the book was offered as a guide for state policymakers on how create a regulatory system for newly legalized alcohol after Prohibition was fully repealed. Daniel Okrent, author of the best selling"Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition"said of Toward Liquor Control“As Prohibition was coming to an end, Toward Liquor Control was one of the key documents influencing how the nation would deal with alcoholic beverages going forward."
The folks that wrote this book were fairly laser focused on solving some very specific problems as they devised their recommended state regulatory schemes for a 1930s, post-Prohibition world:
1. Prevent society (by law) from endorsing or cultivating the culture of the Saloon and Speakeasy that led to so many alcohol related problems prior to and during Prohibition
2. Assure that producers of alcohol (specifically brewers) could no longer tie bars, restaurants or retailers to them through coercion that in turn would lead to irresponsible marketing.
3. Promoted Temperance
4. Promote Respect for the Law
Put another way, "Toward Liquor Control" is a fascinating document that gives us a window into the minds of men who believed alcohol consumption was generally a bad thing and who had been significantly influenced by witnessing the alcohol market of first third of the 20th Century.
Or, put another way: Toward Liquor Control has absolutely no relevance in today's world.
But I don't think this is the point that the National Beer Wholesales Association wanted to make in doing us the favor (and I mean that) of re-releasing the book. The blurbs they published with the book include the same Daniel Okrent saying,"It’s as relevant today as it was then.” 
Another blurb about the book from James Sgueo, President and CEO, National Alcohol Beverage Control Administration (an association of regulators from "Control States") said this: "Toward Liquor Control is a study just as important today as when it was written in 1933. With the failed federal experience of Prohibition, Fosdick and Scott [the authors] recognized the benefits of the states having the ability to enact alcohol policies most suitable for their respective jurisdictions and demographics.”
Ridiculous. Saying that a book on how to re-regulate alcohol after years of Prohibition written almost 80 years is relevant to an age when there is no longer any memory of Prohibition, new attitudes toward alcohol that never existed in 1933 and a commercial market for the product that could not even be imagined in 1933 is like saying Ptolemaic Astronomical theory is as relevant today as it was 1000 years ago.
What we have here in the release of Toward Liquor Control by the beer wholesalers is a continuation of their desire to assure slavish fidelity to a system of alcohol control that benefits wholesalers but is also a system that is so archaic that it can't be justified today on commercial or social grounds.
But, I am really pleased that the beer wholesalers sponsored the republishing of this book. It really is a fascinating historical read. The authors had a very specific view of what alcohol regulation ought to accomplish. Their preferred way to achieve their goals was to cut out the profit motive altogether and see a state control system set up where it was the state that sold and distributed all liquor.
However, they knew that many states would not take this route and take out the profit motive that they believed would lead to problems.
What's really amazing is just how accurate the authors of Toward Liquor Control were in predicting the the results of instituting a Licensed Based System of alcohol control that allowed for profit. They realized it would be corrupted by profit-motivated interests who would work to game the system toward their interests.
They wrote:
“For the establishment of a licensed liquor trade means the deep entrenchment of a far-flung proprietary interest. This interest would have a large capital investment to be protected at all costs. Buildings, leases, fixtures, inventories, stocks and bonds—representing millions of dollars—would require defense against those who in the public interest might threaten curb or reduction...
“Moreover, such a vested interest is bound to employ aggressive tactics in its own defense. Liquor trade associations, open and disguised, would continuously oppose every restriction of opportunities to sell....
“As proposals to dismember any part of the liquor selling business becomes more threatening, the entire trade combines more solidly to protect itself. In brief, a licensed liquor trade, once established, cannot be easily dislodged."
Color me cynical, but this sounds like a pretty close description of what has become of the Wholesale tier of the alcohol industry. Wholesalers have made significant investments in a system that benefits them and they do defend that system against "curb or reduction" and any reform. They have organized behind "liquor trade associations to oppose "restrictions" on their opportunities to sell under the current system that benefits them. And the entire wholesale trade has "combined more solidly to protect themselves" and they are most definitely not "easily dislodged" from their current dominant position that allows them to control so many aspects of the alcohol beverage trade.
The authors of Toward Liquor Control did not advocate a state-mandated use of the wholesaler that now exists in nearly every state that regulates alcohol by issuing licenses to producers, wholesalers and retailers. So, they could never predict it would be wholesalers that took over the position that brewers held prior to Prohibition as the corruptors of the system that lawmakers later knew needed controls after Repeal was passed.
The point is that the 1933 authors of Toward Liquor Control were devising a system of alcohol regulation for 1933 and they could not begin to devise a system that would be effective in 2011. And yet, few if any fundamental reforms have occurred despite the Wholesalers frequent but sublimely absurd claim that the system is threatened by deregulation.
I highly recommend reading Toward Liquor Control to anyone who enjoys the exploration of history.

Direct Shipping of Wine

    How Direct Wine Shipments Are Changing Annual report by ShipCompliant and Wines & Vines about $1.2 billion market shows many strengths   
by Jim Gordon  

ShipCompliant direct to consumer
Napa, Calif.—The overall news about direct-to-consumer wine shipments presented yesterday at ShipCompliant’s annual conference was very good for U.S. wineries. Both volume and value of DtC shipments were up by more than 11% over the previous year. Digging deeper into the data provided by ShipCompliant and Wines & Vines revealed where the many successes—and a few disappointments—in sales performance occurred.  

Wines from Napa Valley remained the biggest selling items in the 12 months ending April 2011. Napa Valley’s favorite varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon, was the most popular varietal shipped and earned the most dollars per bottle. More surprising was the news that California wines from outside Napa and Sonoma counties enjoyed the fastest growth rate of all regions presented: 43% higher in case volume than the previous year. Also, the fastest growing wine varieties for DtC shipments included some of those previously considered less exciting, notably Sauvignon Blanc, sparkling wine and the oft-maligned Merlot.
Bars and pies Marc Engel, founder of Engel Research Partners in San Bruno, Calif., presented the results to 400-plus attendees at the all-day ShipCompliant Direct Shipping Seminar & Users Conference. Drawing on his 20-plus years of experience in market research for wine and other luxury products, Engel showed a 37-slide PowerPoint presentation and interpreted dozens of pie graphs, bar charts and maps for a crowd composed largely of winery staff.
The results came from the ShipCompliant/Wines & Vines Shipment Model. The model takes millions of DtC transactions handled by ShipCompliant for its winery customers and analyzes them in conjunction with Wines & Vines’ exhaustive database of 6,900 U.S. wineries. Overall results showed the entire DtC shipment market at 2.75 million cases worth $1.2 billion, spread among wine club, Internet/phone sales and tasting room purchases shipped to homes by the wineries. The data do not include tasting room carryout sales, which remain larger in case volume than direct shipments. Engel painted the big picture first: Volume in 9-liter cases went up nearly 300,000 cases or 11.6% from May 2010 through April 2011—an increase of 11.5% in value, or nearly $124 million. The pace of DtC shipment growth more than doubled the growth rate of retail sales. DtC growth was exceptional compared to the rate of U.S. wine production from May 2010 through April 2011. California wine production, estimated at 90% of U.S. production, grew just 1% in volume. The average bottle price for DtC shipments remained steady at $37. Nearly every price-point increased in case sales during the 12 months, especially in the lowest and highest ranges, but sales slipped by 7% in the $20-$29.99 group. Wines under $15 shot up in sales by 34%, and sales for those priced at more than $100 rose 16%. One dramatic change from last year was the high rate of increase in DtC shipments from the largest wineries. Direct shipments from producers of 500,000 cases or more increased by 168% from a small base. On the other end of the winery-size scale, wineries producing 1,000 or fewer cases saw a decline of 41% in case volume of DtC shipments. Cabernet still king Cabernet Sauvignon remained by far the favorite varietal choice, with a 27% share among the 11 specified varietal categories. Pinot Noir was next, followed by Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Syrah and Merlot in that order. From a large base, Cabernet grew 31% in volume and 28% in value. “Cabernet has succeeded phenomenally,” in market share and bottle price, Engel observed. “It was by far the most expensive varietal shipped to consumers.” Both sparkling wine and Sauvignon Blanc grew even faster than Cabernet Sauvignon, from small bases. Of the major varieties, Sauvignon Blanc had the lowest price per bottle at $23, while sparkling wines averaged $35. Engel showed which states receive the most DtC shipments. California was the leader by far with 32% of the market, followed in order by Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois and Washington. The fastest growing states were Georgia, Connecticut, California and Ohio. Geographical origin of the wines shifted in significant ways during the measured year. While shipments from major California regions increased, wine shipments produced in other states decreased by 23%. Shipments from Napa Valley and Sonoma County were reported separately; another category combined results from the rest of California.
ShipCompliant direct to consumerThis “rest of” component grew 43% in volume, indicating that consumers are increasingly interested in wines from regions like Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Mendocino. In a comparative analysis of top varietals, the rest of California showed higher growth rates than both Napa and Sonoma in five of six categories. Napa wines continued to lead the bottle price data with an average of $52. Sonoma was second at $36. Average price from the balance of California was $26; outside California it was $22.

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Copyright © Wines & Vines

Risky Business

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Contact: Mark Shwartz
Stanford University 

Global warming could alter the US premium wine industry in 30 years, says Stanford study

 IMAGE: Higher temperatures could hurt California and other premium wine-growing regions of the United States by 2040, according to a new study led by Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University.
Click here for more information.
Higher temperatures could significantly impact California and other premium winegrowing regions of the United States in the next 30 years, according to a new study led by Stanford University climate scientists.
Writing in the June 30 edition of Environmental Research Letters, the scientists report that by 2040, the amount of land suitable for cultivating premium wine grapes in high-value areas of northern California could shrink by 50 percent because of global warming. However, some cooler parts of Oregon and Washington State could see an increase in premium grape-growing acreage due to warming, according to the study.
These results come on the heels of the researchers' 2006 climate study, which projected that as much as 81 percent of premium wine grape acreage in the U.S. could become unsuitable for some varietals by the end of the century.
"Our new study looks at climate change during the next 30 years – a timeframe over which people are actually considering the costs and benefits of making decisions on the ground," said Noah Diffenbaugh, an assistant professor of environmental Earth system science and a center fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford, who co-authored both studies.
Climate change, from global to local
Most U.S. wine comes from the West Coast. California alone produces on average more than 5 million gallons per year, accounting for about 90 percent of the nation's total wine production, according to the Wine Institute, a trade organization representing California winemakers. The institute estimated the retail value of the state's wine industry in 2010 at $18.5 billion.
The new study focused on premium wines – the 25 percent most expensive wines on the market – and how global warming could affect growing conditions in four premium wine-producing counties by 2040: Napa and Santa Barbara counties in California, Yamhill County in Oregon's Willamette Valley and Walla Walla County in Washington's Columbia Valley.
"We focused on these counties because their mild climates have made them major sources of high-quality grapes, and because they represent both cool and warm growing conditions," Diffenbaugh said.
But that could change, and soon.
"There will likely be significant localized temperature changes over the next three decades," Diffenbaugh said. "One of our motivations for the study was to identify the potential impact of those changes, and also to identify the opportunities for growers to take action and adapt."
Climate change for lovers of fine wine
The study was based on the assumption that there will be a 23 percent increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases by 2040, which could raise the average global temperature by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) – a conservative scenario, according to Diffenbaugh. "World governments have said that to reduce the negative impacts of climate change, global warming should be limited to an increase of 1 degree Celsius," he added.
To predict how much land area will be suitable for premium wine grape cultivation in coming decades, Diffenbaugh and his colleagues used a very high-resolution computer model that incorporated local, regional and global conditions, including factors such as coastal wind speeds and ocean temperatures. The researchers compared their simulations to actual weather data collected between 1960 and 2010 to see if their model could accurately "predict" past temperatures.
Using the climate model and the historical weather data, the researchers predicted that by 2040, all four counties are likely to experience higher average temperatures during growing seasons, along with an increase in the number of very hot days when the thermometer reaches 95 F (35 C) or above.
In the experiment, the scientists divided premium grape varieties into separate categories based on their tolerance to different temperature ranges. For example, Napa Valley – widely known for its pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and other premium wines – has historically experienced growing seasons with an average temperature of less than 68 F (20 C) and fewer than 30 very hot days. Grapes that thrive in that climate have done well there.
According to the study, the average temperature in Napa Valley during the growing season could increase as much as 2 F (1.1 C), with the number of very hot days increasing by 10. As a result, the amount of land with historically hospitable growing conditions could shrink by half over the next three decades, the study found. In Santa Barbara County, the amount of suitable grape-growing acreage with similar climate conditions is projected to decline by more than 20 percent as temperatures rise.
"I was surprised that local temperature changes could have such a big impact on an important industry with only 1 degree Celsius of global warming." Diffenbaugh said.
The study also predicted higher temperatures in Oregon and Washington by 2040, but with potentially different outcomes for winegrowers. Oregon's Willamette Valley could see a slight increase in the amount of total suitable acreage and a large increase in area suitable for more valuable varieties, according to the study. But in Washington's Columbia Valley, varietals that are sensitive to severely hot days could see a 30 percent reduction in suitable land area, the results showed.
Risky business
The researchers also looked at how much land could be available to growers who adapt to warmer conditions, such as by planting heat-tolerant vines or altering their cultivation practices. The study found that suitable acreage in Napa and Santa Barbara counties could actually be increased if growers are able to produce quality grapes that can tolerate up to 45 very hot days and average temperatures of 71 F (22 C) in the growing season. However, varieties currently grown in those conditions tend to produce considerably lower wine quality and value, the authors noted.
Winegrowers, with their knowledge of which cultivation techniques are most appropriate in a given climate, could benefit from the study's forecasts of temperature conditions, Diffenbaugh said.
"Climate change over the next few decades is of particular relevance for the wine industry," he said. "It's a big investment to put plants in the ground. They're slow to mature, and once they mature they're productive for a long time."
Some decisions growers make now could affect their vineyards in 30 years, he added, whether they consider the potential effects of local climate change or not. Moving a vineyard to a cooler location or planting different varietals could be costly for winegrowers, the study said. But in areas where less drastic temperature change is likely, growers may be able to maintain the quality of their grapes by using existing cultivation and winemaking techniques, Diffenbaugh said. Possible strategies include special trellis systems that shade vines, using irrigation to cool plants and adjusting fermentation processes in the winery.
"It's risky for a grower to make decisions that consider climate change, because those decisions could be expensive and the climate may not change exactly as we expect," Diffenbaugh said. "But there's also risk in decisions that ignore global warming, because we're finding that there are likely to be significant localized changes in the near term."
"Humans are amazingly resilient, and individual growers will of course make decisions as they read the signs on the ground," he added. "We're trying to understand how the climate that works so well for growing great wine grapes right now might be affected by even modest global warming. We can't know the future before it happens, but if we don't ask the question, we may be surprised when reality unfolds."
Other coauthors of the study are Michael White of Utah State University, Gregory Jones of Southern Oregon University and Moetasim Ashfaq of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a former postdoctoral researcher at Stanford.
The study was supported in part by a National Science Foundation CAREER award to Noah Diffenbaugh.
This article was written by Sascha Zubryd, a science-writing intern at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A way of using wine scores

Seeking Wines With Stories To Tell

MONDAY, JUNE 27, 2011

For A Change, A Good Word About Scores

Though I have no intent to buy either carriage or horse, I occasionally mosey into the barn out back with ambitious plans to clear it of outdated automotive parts, electronics, furniture and the like, thereby making room for I don't know what; maybe a Harley.

Much of the clutter is box after box of wine memorabilia - auction catalogs, competition results, winery newsletters, tasting notes, labels, posters and assorted other detritus that eventually may end up on eBay or in the catacombs of some library.

I never get far toward my goal of sorting and organizing, however. Invariably, I'm soon distracted by some wrinkled, stained and faded piece of paper I'd forgotten I even had but nevertheless again find captivating, rediscovering why I saved it in the first place. I sit down and start to read. Before I know it, it's dinnertime, and I amble back into the house for the day. Such was the case over the weekend when I came across a copy of the one-page newsletter that Richard Peterson was writing and publishing at The Monterey Vineyard in Gonzales three decades ago.

In a pithy essay under the simple headline "Theory of Relativity," Peterson lays out his scheme to make sense of scores that just then were gaining currency in the reviewing of wines. At the time, 20 points was widely seen as the highest score a wine could receive. That's because competitions and critics frequently based their evaluations of wine on a 20-point metric developed by UC Davis. Today, 100 points is the standard used by several competitions and critics, its origin attributed to school tests with which most Americans are well acquainted, and thus easily could relate.

Regardless, Peterson's principles still apply. "I've never seen a consistent relationship between price and quality in wine," said Peterson at the outset of his essay. At the time, he'd put in more than 20 years in the wine trade. "Price sometimes depends upon the amount of a wine to be sold, but doesn't necessarily correspond to its quality," he added.

Then he showed wine enthusiasts how to apply his "theory of relativity" to everyday life. His intent was to help consumers find the best wine at the lowest price whenever they run across a list of wines whose reviews prominently feature a score. He knew from his long experience as both a winemaker and as a judge on the wine-competition circuit that there's apt to be little difference in the nature and quality of wines whose scores are relatively close.

"How maddening it is to see a wine ballyhooed in publications as a 'grand winner' because it received an average score of, say, 16.3 points - over another which averaged only 16.2 points. In reality, whichever of those two wines sold at significantly lower price should be the true 'grand winner,' as far as the consumer is concerned. I believe that if competent judges rate several wines as 'equal' in quality, then the lowest priced wine should always be reported as the 'winner' in value. Yet, this is rarely done by the wine press," added Peterson. Remember, he wrote this nearly 30 years ago. Things haven't much changed since then.

Here's how to put Peterson's theory into practice: Divide the score given each wine in a tasting by that wine's price. This will give you "quality points per dollar," and the higher the resulting figure the better the value. The July issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine, for example, lists 11 California chardonnays with scores between 90 and 93 points. Of the 11, the wine with the most points also was the most expensive ($65). According to Peterson's theory of relativity, it also offered the fewest "quality points per dollar" - 1.43 - and thus the least value. The wine with the most value, with 3.91 quality points, was the Talbott 2009 Santa Lucia Highlands Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Chardonnay, which scored 90 points and sells for a mere $23.

But don't stop there, Peterson says. He urges consumers to do their calculations, buy wines that stand out for combining high relative value with recognized quality, then taste them and decide for themselves which wines are truly high in value. "After tasting, you can score them and figure a new 'personal' relative value if you wish; but once you've made your own personal decision about various wines' relative values to you, then you must thereafter ignore the original tasting judges' scores," he writes.

It's an old story (encouraging consumers to develop their own tastes) with an enabling twist (the "theory of relativity"). In short, each consumer decides for himself or herself where they get the most value for their buck. Nearly 30 years ago, Peterson offered a quick and simple formula to help consumers on that journey, and it is as applicable today as it was then, if not more so, given the popularity and power of scores given wines.

Would you like Zin with your stem cells?

Breaking News on Food & Beverage Development - Europe

Man-made meat may be just around the corner, say scientists

By Nathan Gray, 28-Jun-2011
Related topics: Meat, fish and savoury ingredients, Science & Nutrition, Sustainable sourcing

Facing an ever-increasing population, and a growing demand for meat products, the world’s first in vitro meat may offer the beginning of a new solution to the problem, say researchers.

A team of scientists, led by Dr Mark Post, a professor of physiology at Maastricht University in The Netherlands, are currently developing meat products grown from stem cells extracted from cattle. The in vitro process involves growing muscle tissue from a small number of stem cells taken from healthy cows.
Researchers believe the so called ‘test tube meat’, which is grown from stem cells could eventually lead to the reliable, sustainable production of low cost food, without the need for livestock.
Growing population
The researchers said that as the global population grows over the next few decades, the world’s meat consumption is also expected to double by around 2050.
As a result, lab grown meats such as beef, chicken and lamb could become commonplace.
Man-made meat
The researchers are currently working on producing a burger from around 10,000 stem cells extracted from cattle. The cells are left to multiply by more than a billion times, producing muscle tissue that will then be used to make burgers.
In 2009 researchers from Maastricht University also grew strips of pork using similar methods, whilst fish fillets have previously been grown in a New York laboratory using cells taken from goldfish muscle tissue.
The research team said that the first in vitro burger could be ready to be taste tested in less than twelve month's time.
A study by researchers at Oxford University previously suggested that that the process of in vitro meat production could mean a 35 to 60 per cent reduction in energy consumption, in addition to requiring 98 per cent less land and producing between 80 and 95 per cent less greenhouse gas than conventional farming.

Monday, June 27, 2011

But in general, the business of wine is agribusiness.


MONDAY, JUNE 27, 2011

My argument for biodynamic and organic viticulture

Viticulturist Richard Smart made conventional winemakers around the world feel good earlier this month with a speech in Barcelona in which he appeared to attack organic and biodynamic viticulture.

I wish I had been in Barcelona for the speech and the tapas. All I have to rely on is Lucy Shaw's report for Drinks Business, which makes Smart sound like he's grinding a different axe entirely. The provocative headline reads "Dr. Richard Smart Slams Organics," but his point seems to be that climate change should be our main worry.

His main point against organic viticulture appears to be this quote: "When people buy food they don’t mind choosing products that have been grown on land treated with chemicals, so why should they care about how a wine has been treated?” He also said, "Many of the concepts behind organics and biodynamics are nonsense. They’re not good for the environment." He may have gotten more specific than that, but if so it was not reported.

It's easy to dispute his first quote, and if accurately reported, it makes him look ignorant. Yes, most people don't care about organic produce, but plenty of people DO care, and that's why organics are the fastest-growing product segment in the grocery industry.

I would dispute only one word in his second quote, but it's a crucial one. It's true that SOME of the concepts behind organics and particularly biodynamics are nonsense: the unlimited use of copper springs to mind. Stu Smith would like to add that just because a chemical preparation is organic doesn't mean it's not harsh and dangerous. Stipulated.

Here, in four words that wine businesses won't like, is the entirety of my argument for certified biodynamic and organic viticulture:

I don't trust you.

I'm sorry. I don't mean you Larry, or you Nicholas, or any of you other guys I know personally, whose vineyards I've visited, who I've broken bread with. There are dozens of conventional wineries I trust to not overload their vineyards with toxic chemicals that might be absorbed into the wine grapes because I have had personal contact with them.

But in general, the business of wine is agribusiness. I would argue that wine grape growers, as a group, are the most conscientious farmers of all because they realize how important the health of their vines is. It's in their self-interest to keep their soil healthy.

And yet, here we are. I'm in the consumer class that Richard Smart doesn't believe exists. I pay more for organic milk, organic eggs, and organically grown fruits and vegetables. There are exceptions: I go to farmers' markets and buy uncertified produce from farmers I can meet and talk with. But if I see two boxes of blueberries in a store, I'll pay more for the organic one, in part because I hope they will taste better, and in part because I just don't trust agribusiness.

I have to add that many of the dozens of vineyard visits I make every year don't do anything to alleviate my overall trust issue. I have stopped writing down the following statement because I hear it so often: "We're almost totally organic but we're not certified because we need the leeway when necessary (or certification costs too much)." I know it's true -- I would probably even be that kind of farmer myself. And yet, here I am in a vineyard in Spain or Chile or New Zealand or wherever, and I'll never be back, and how do I know if they really believe this philosophy or they're reciting the quote because their PR person told them it's the best way to answer the "are you organic?" question?

Organic or biodynamic certification means I don't have to go to the vineyard myself and break bread with the grower. It means I don't have to show up after a hard rain to see what you're spraying. It means I don't have to look through your purchase orders to see what kind of herbicides you bought.

When I'm in a wine shop, and I see "made from certified organic grapes" on the bottle, I don't have to know anything about you. I feel more secure in buying your wine.

I'm truly sorry to the hundreds of passionate grape growers out there who don't pursue organic or biodynamic certification for the best of reasons. The problem is, when I read about French growers labeling other grapes as Pinot Noir, or South African vintners adding herb flavoring to their wines -- or, closer to home, Constellation Brands offering a record bid for Thompson seedless grapes that could legally be used to fill up 25% of each bottle of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc they make -- I know that the wine business is agribusiness. It's not Monsanto, it's exponentially more human and caring than the corn industry, but it's agribusiness just the same.

For me and the other perhaps 3% of the grocery buying public who prefer to buy organic, you can go out and meet with each of us and explain your principles. Or you can get certified. Or you can simply ignore our portion of the market, which I think is the choice of many. However, you do so at your peril because sommeliers are over-represented in that 3%, for the great reason that many are just as passionate about agriculture and food issues as you are.

Organic and biodynamic certification is purely about trust, and that applies not just to wine, but to all food products. I'm sorry I don't trust you. But I don't.

Get out of the Office and Into the Street

When Multicultural is the Culture

June 23, 2011
The 2010 Census confirmed something Nielsen has been noting for some time: multicultural consumers are rapidly becoming the majority in the United States and their buying power is significant. Understanding their purchasing and media habits is the next big challenge/opportunity facing marketers and brands today. Taking a deep dive into data and trends within the African American, Asian American and Hispanic communities, Nielsen’s Claudia Pardo laid out compelling statistics and a demographic framework shaping the future. It’s clear that marketers and brands will be forced to rethink their perspective — and their share of spend — when it comes to multicultural groups.
“Can anyone in the room honestly say they’re doing everything they can to satisfy the consumption needs of this population?” Pardo asked attendees. “The demographic growth of these groups is simply becoming too great to ignore.” The good news, noted Pardo, is that multicultural groups are actually more loyal to brands and there’s an opportunity to win a consumer for life.
In the past multiculturalism was talked about as a melting pot, but it’s really more like a salad bowl where each group stands out and is different in the way they value their culture and traditions. Pardo offered examples of notable distinctions in the way these diverse groups shop and consume media.
  • Spend the most per trip and annually
  • Shop less often, usually with family
Blacks/African Americans
  • Shop more frequently than any other ethnicity
  • The most brand loyal; fewer purchases of private label
Asian Americans
  • Most likely group to compare prices and shop online
  • Frequent fewer super centers, dollar stores or convenience stores
Daily Total household TV usage by Race and Origin
  • Hispanics: 4hrs 35min
  • Blacks/African Americans: 7hrs 12min
  • Asian Americans: 3hrs 14min
  • National Average: 5hrs 11min
Pardo noted that understanding these and other details (such as understanding that multicultural consumers are actually ahead of the curve when it comes to mobile phone adoption, understanding their different TV viewing and online browsing habits, or ensuring that ethnicities are portrayed more often and more appropriately in ads) is key to seizing the massive market opportunity ahead.
“The story here is that within the next five years, multicultural clients will drive 86 percent of the total growth on spending in retail,” Pardo highlighted. “If you look at growth without these groups, you are only addressing 10 percent of the growth.”
Pardo suggested a number of key questions organizations should ask before embarking on an effective multi-cultural strategy:
  • What is your share of the multi-cultural market?
  • Do you know this consumer better than your peers?
  • Are you fishing where the fish are?
  • Do you have the depth of consumer insight to ensure you deploy the most effective marketing mix?
  • Is your advertising culturally relevant?
  • Is your organization ready?
  • Are you investing in the right structures and incentives to ensure multi-culturalism remains top of mind?
A panel discussion with Roberto Ruiz of Univision, Idaliz Chacon of Procter & Gamble, Angela Joyner of ConAgra Foods and Bill Imada of IW Group followed the presentation and generated the following guidance for organizations looking to engage in effective multicultural strategies:
  1. Create Internal Champions: From creating a Center of Excellence for multicultural marketing, through tracking success via executive scorecards, all panelists agreed that a multi-cultural approach must be a top-down business imperative to avoid a transient, “flavor of the month” approach to engagement.
  2. Scale Your Investment: Bill Imada advised participants to “start small, get some wings, build confidence and go from there.” He maintained that many companies do not exploit what they already know and have in their historic “corporate inventory.” He advised participants to find which current product lines make the most sense in multi-cultural markets, to pick just one of the population segments with the biggest opportunity and build as much cultural learning and competency as possible before roll-out to other populations as part of an organic growth strategy. Idaliz Chacon said it was important to understand the “size of the prize” to build product category and right-size the investment. To close share gaps faster, she indicated that companies should “invest to win,” even disproportionately if necessary. This view was shared by Angela Joyner who stated that trying to drive brand penetration into new markets would potentially require substantial investment as part of a five year strategy to build brand presence and advocacy.
  3. Don’t over-segment: For an effective segmentation strategy, all panelists agreed that it was more important to look for similarities than differences among the focus population and that over-segmentation would decrease the opportunity. Roberto Ruiz stated that the key to effective segmentation is “actionability” and that the nuance of “bi-culturalism” of individuals, for instance being “dominant Hispanic,” while “fascinating,” was completely “worthless” as a segmentation consideration on the basis that people tend to be entirely immersed in both aspects of their culture.
  4. Get out of the Office and Into the Street: “Consumer immersion” was considered the most powerful way to energize a company’s multi-cultural strategy and summarized as “the power of being there and seeing what’s going on.” Leveraging employee ethnic groups within organizations was viewed as a unique asset companies could deploy to generate proprietary insight and delight and win with diverse consumers.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tannin Story

The Gazette-Montreal

Wine: The skinny on fat tannins



Cabernet sauvignon grapes growing in Australia’s Coonawarra region. Many winemakers would pick them at this stage, but by leaving them on the vine longer, the tannins become softer.

Photograph by: Bill Zacharkiw, Special to The Gazette

MONTREAL - I received an email asking what I mean when I write about “fat” tannins with respect to red wines. It’s been a while since I have delved into the more technical side of winemaking, so here’s “the skinny” on tannins.
What exactly is a tannin?
Tannins are the cause of that drying sensation in your mouth when you drink a red wine. They are a group of chemical compounds that can be found in diverse sources like fruits, tea and wood. They find their way into a wine via the stems, skin and seeds of the grape, and from the wood of barrels. They are a constant preoccupation during the grape-growing and winemaking process, because how they are dealt with has a profound effect on the style of the wine that makes it into the bottle.
To understand the different qualities of tannins, you need to know why they are there in the first place. For the grapevine, tannins act as a defence.
When young, grapes are green and taste extremely acidic and bitter because the seeds of the fruit are the vine’s way of reproducing, but the plant only wants its fruit to be eaten when the seeds are ripe. The green colour of the grape skin not only camouflages the bunches among the leaves, but more importantly, if an animal does find them and decides to have a little snack, the unripe and aggressive tannins in the skins and seeds will give the grape a horribly bitter taste that drives off the nibblers.
As grapes ripen, the skin colour changes, making it stand out and more attractive. At the same time, it becomes less acidic and sweeter to the taste, and most important, the tannins become less bitter. This is called “phenolic” ripeness.
One of the problems in the past, especially in cooler European climates, was that grapes were not picked when fully ripe, and the wines had what we call “green tannins.” These are quite harsh, and very drying in the mouth, like a tea that has been steeped for a few hours.
Winemakers strive for ripe tannins. Along with acidity, tannins are the most important structural element of red wine. White wines are made differently; with the juice spending next to no time in contact with the skins, so tannins don’t play an important role in its structure. In reds, they serve as a preservative and give it potential for aging.
They also provide the wine with structure and backbone, like a picture frame, focusing the fruit and other flavours.
The two types of ripe
So if it is simply a case of making sure the grape skins and seeds are ripe, what’s the problem? Well, as I have mentioned in previous columns, ripeness is a very relative thing. The tannins and seeds are only part of what a winemaker looks at when grapes are growing.
The other thing that happens as the grape ripens – which, in wine lingo, is referred to as veraison – is that as the sugar levels increase, the acidity decreases, which is also known as sugar ripeness. (Think of how tart an unripe apple is compared with one that is ripe.)
The problem is that these two “ripenings” don’t always happen at the same time. In hotter regions or during very hot vintages, the grapes ripen so fast that sugar ripeness is often achieved well before phenolic ripeness. (This happened in much of Europe in the heat wave of 2003.)
This phenomenon puts grape growers in a bit of a bind. Because the tannins aren’t quite ripe, the grapes have to be left on the vine longer. By the time the skins and seeds have finally caught up, there is very little acidity left in the grapes and sugar levels have skyrocketed.
So while there are many factors explaining why alcohol levels have crept up so much during the past decade, one of the reasons is because winemakers are waiting for phenolic ripeness.
One person’s sweet is another’s fat
Another thing has happened to grape growing and tannin management that is also tied in with this idea of relative ripeness. If you are a fan of cabernet sauvignon, or compared a wine from California with one from Bordeaux, you might have noticed that the Californian wine will be much less mouth-drying.
Much of the movement in modern winemaking has been to make wines as easy to drink as possible from the get-go. And one of the things winemakers focus on is tannin ripeness.
While “what is ripe” has changed with respect to grape flavours – many winemakers hate anything resembling a green or herbaceous note in their wines – the same can be said for tannins.
When I taste with New World winemakers, they often refer to the quality of the tannins in their wines as “sweet” because they have taken tannin ripeness to an extreme – at least in my view.
While green tannins are extremely hard and bitter, classically ripened tannins are still a bit drying. These wines, like traditionally made Bordeaux and Chianti, can be a bit dry if you drink them on their own in their youth. These are the type of tannins that I often refer to as “gritty,” “firm” or “tight.”
Wines that have traditionally been made for cellaring have these types of tannins. As the wines age, these tannins become less drying. How this process happens is still not fully understood, but essentially the tannin compounds bind together to form chains. The end result is that they dry out the mouth much less.
But many people don’t want to wait for tannins to soften in bottle. In more modern wines, especially those from California and Australia, they want “sweet.” This sensation comes from higher alcohol levels, riper fruit flavours, new oak barrels and, yes, from riper tannins.
By leaving grapes longer on the vines, the tannin compounds start to modify themselves directly on the vine. Again, how they do so is still not fully understood, but when the grapes are turned into wine, they do not dry out the mouth and why they are referred to as sweet.
While I agree that they do not give a bitter taste, I find they don’t “hold the wine together” nearly as well, making the wine feel too rich. This is why I often refer to them as fat, though I will also use words like “soft,” “round” or “plump.”
Is one style better than another? Much of it depends on your palate preference. I don’t put sugar in my espresso because I like bitter, and my palate was formed during the 1990s by European wines, which tended to have a lot of bitterness. Many of you have started with sweeter, New World wines.
Is there a perfect tannin level out there? No. Much like everything in wine, it is about personal preference.